Most travellers come to Koh Phangan for a short time and just to see the infamous Full Moon Party on Had Rin beach.  Had Rin is also the most developed and least authentically Thai beach on Koh Phangan.  So, if you must go to the full moon party, at least make sure you attempt to see the rest of the island as well!

 There are 30-odd beaches on Koh Phangan, all very nice compared to the bigger islands like Koh Samui and the Phuket/Krabi area.  This island is very laid back, and not so developed.  The island can be seen in a day or a couple of days (on motorbike, or rent a Jeep!), but it's best to search out what you like and then plan to spend at least a week or even a few weeks getting to know the place. The people you will meet, the insight to the culture, and finding your niche are all more rewarding than puking your guts out on a crowded beach one night.

 The top 5 beaches in the author's experience are-

1) Thong Nai Pan Yai (detailed below)

2) Thong Nai Pan Noi

3) Mae Haad in the Northwest

4) Than Sadet

5) Had Yao

 

 THONG NAI PAN YAI-  Both Thong Nai Pans are gems. However Thong Nai Pan Yai is a bigger beach with more placid, swimmable waters and white sand.  The main village area is still quite quaint and Thai- you will see old ladies chewing betelnut, wearing sarongs, carrying scythes and and smiling at you from the roadside.  The locals are more friendly, less pretentious than those in the smaller neighboring beach, and there are more Thai families here than foreign tourists. The beach at Yai does not get too crowded and there are plenty of shady areas to lay in. Nightlife on this beach can be great, or nonexistent, depending on the season.  It is easy to find what you are looking for with an open mind.

Recommendations---

Accomodation:Dolphin Bungalows has always been the star of this beach, but lots of other contenders have recently sprung up. Most of them have created concrete monstrosities and added swimming pools (on the beach?!), so the laid back feel of the beach is quickly disappearing with development. Still, some good options can be found at Paradise Garden Resort on the main road as you come into the village, Indian Bar on the opposite side, which has a couple of nice bungalows, Pen's, which is a decent standby, and Candle Huts, a nice beachfront option. 

Food: The bungalows all have the same food and most of it is sub-par, created for farang palates.  Pen's restaurant is the best of that lot.  Independent restaurants and food shops are a better bet here.    The locals all go to Pa Thong's for Thai food, on the main road on the left as you come into town. Ask around for "Noodle Soup Corner" to find it.  The very best food on the beach is at Under Sky restaurant- great seafood. Another recently opened option is Chili's restaurant, and of course there is Wisit's Burgers. 

Nightlife: There are several bars on Yai beach however they switch names and owners often and  they are not all consistently open at any time. Ask around for this night's best entertainment options. Game Bar is usually popular to start.

To do: In this area you can swim, kayak, hike (to Bottle Beach or Than Sadet), go elephant trekking (nearby on the road to Ban Tai), have a massage, have a free sauna/steamroom (donations only at Wat Po on the road to Ban Tai), watch the sunrise, hang out in your hammock, take a yoga course or a dive trip.

 

HOW TO GET TO THONG NAI PAN FROM BANGKOK

1- IF YOU FLY: Book a flight on Bangkok Airways getting to Samui before 11am, and coming back on whatever day on or after the 1:40p flight. You will need to take the 12p ferry to Thongsala on Koh Phangan from the Mae Nam pier in Samui...it is the catamaran that takes like 20 mins and is 250 baht. You can get a taxi to that pier for 150b if you ask at the airport taxi desk, takes like 10 mins.

2- IF YOU TAKE THE BUS: Take a taxi to Sai Tai station over the bridge from Bangkok. Buy tickets from whichever terminal (there are 2) goes to Koh Samui/Phangan. The bus leaves around 7p but get there a bit early for tix, like around 4:30 or 5. Buy a ticket for the overnight VIP bus to Koh Phangan. You will also have to buy a ferry ticket when they come sell them to you on the bus. They stop for food in the middle of the night and the bus is cold. The bus goes on the ferry (3 hours) right to Koh Phangan. You arrive at about 8am.

3- IF YOU TAKE THE TRAIN: I can't really remember, get a train from Hualampong station around 5p going to Surat Thani. When it gets there in the morning you have to take a bus from the train station to the ferry pier in Donsak. You will have to buy a ferry ticket too. It involves an hour or so wait, and the ferry is about 3 hours.

4- ARRIVAL: To get a taxi, just ask the Thais around the pier when you arrive who can take you to Thong Nai Pan Yai. Your hotel could probably arrange a taxi to pick you up there. You should pay only about 1-200 baht, depending on how many people are going. They are fixing the road to get here so it is not so bad now and only takes like 25 mins.